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U.S. Soldiers Train Canadians for Afghanistan in Texas

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

FORT BLISS, Texas, Feb. 27, 2008 – More than 3,000 Canadian soldiers preparing for a rotation in Afghanistan are wrapping up a pre-deployment training exercise here this week that included U.S.-led instruction in countering improvised explosive devices.

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Canadian army Pvt. William Burgess, of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, attempts to locate an enemy insurgent moments after dismounted soldiers in his unit were engaged during a convoy-training exercise at Fort Bliss, Texas, and McGregor Range, N.M., in preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan. Canadian army photo
  

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The three-week 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group exercise, dubbed Exercise Southern Bear, concludes Feb. 28.

Soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, in Ontario, arrived here Feb. 7 to train for their deployment to Kandahar in September, Lt. Andrew Hennessy, the 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group spokesman, told American Forces Press Service. Once deployed, the soldiers will serve with the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team and as observer mentor liaison teams that embed with and train Afghan soldiers and national police.

About 80 percent of the troops will be deploying to Afghanistan for the first time, but they’re no strangers to tough missions far from home in Bosnia, Haiti, Eritrea and other hot spots, Hennessey said. “They’ve had lots of experience in lots of places,” he said.

Exercise Southern Bear, spread over a massive area that includes not just Fort Bliss, but also the McGregor Range and White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, is giving the Canadians the opportunity to train for operations with both friendly and hostile civilians, enemy insurgents, media and Afghan national security forces.

Although Canadian trainers are leading the gunnery, convoy live fire, first aid and most other training blocks, they’ve looked to U.S. soldiers to help prepare them to face improvised explosive devices, Hennessey said.

The U.S. 5th Armored “Dagger” Brigade, 1st Army Division West -- a hybrid of active, reserve and National Guard troops deployed here from Fort Carson, Colo., since July as trainers -- is offering that assistance.

About 1,300 of the Canadian troops have gone through the “IED-defeat” training so far, and about 150 more are scheduled each day for the remainder of the exercise, said Army Col. Frank Sherman, who commands 5th Armored Brigade.

The training begins with about an hour and a half of classroom instruction. After that, students get exposed to an “IED petting zoo,” where Sherman said they get to put their hands on several types of IEDs to see what they look like. From there, students learn to take scraps of metal to build their own IEDs.

“We have them do that because we want them to understand what these things are and how they’re built,” Sherman said.

This practice helps ensures that when soldiers encounter an IED component in the combat theater, they recognize what it is. “If they know the pieces and the components that go into making them, it’s going to be easier for them to recognize an IED,” Sherman said.

With that training under their belts, the troops traverse two IED-defeat lanes set up at McGregor Range. In the first lane, for dismounted operations, soldiers spend about three hours moving as a squad. Along a mile-long stretch of New Mexico desert, they encounter six different types of IEDs, Sherman said.

Next soldiers move to their vehicles -- mostly six-wheeled light armored vehicles and eight wheeled Coyote reconnaissance vehicles -- to navigate a mounted IED course where they’re exposed to five or six IEDs.

Sherman said the length of the course -- 7 miles -- gives soldiers enough time between IED events to test their vigilance. “They learn that, as they continue to move, they have to keep scanning areas and being watchful,” he said. “We don’t want them to become complacent. You can never let your guard down.”

That’s critical, he said, as more IEDs begin to appear in Afghanistan. “The enemy’s adapting,” he said. “They’re learning from the other theater (Iraq) how effective they are, and they are migrating.”

“IEDs are one of -- if not the -- biggest threats we will face in Afghanistan,” Hennessey agreed.

He said the training Sherman’s troops are providing are a way for deploying soldiers to learn new skills that will help give them a leg up on insurgents who might use IED against them. “This is an opportunity to learn from the American military and gain from their experiences in both Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.

Sherman’s trainers strive to make the training realistic and meaningful. They continually institute changes, “incorporating the latest tactics, techniques and procedures the Taliban is using,” he said.

The trainers use the latest training aids, including a simulator that can be detonated wirelessly, with an infrared beam, or by a “victim” who unwittingly walks or drives on it. When the device goes off, it “throws off a big cloud and shoots off a starburst,” Sherman said. “It really does get your attention.”

Meanwhile, the high-desert training environment closely resembles Kandahar itself, he said. McGregor Range stands at 4,400 feet altitude, just a few hundred feet short of Kandahar. It’s a sandy, arid area without much vegetation and similar fields of observation to those in Afghanistan.

“Fort Bliss at this time of year looks a lot like Kandahar,” Hennessey agreed.

Conditions here are a far cry from those at the Canadian soldiers’ home base, currently buried under 3 feet of snow with temperatures in the -20s degrees Fahrenheit. “Trying to train in conditions like that is pretty difficult,” Sherman said.

With the training about to wrap up, Sherman said, he’s impressed by the way the soldiers have taken the lessons learned here to heart. “They’ve gained a lot of situational awareness, and they’re a lot more in tune to their surroundings,” he said. “They have learned how to scan the environment.”

Just as importantly, he said, they’ve come to realize that defeating IEDs is everyone’s job. “It’s a team effort, and everyone understands they have a piece of it,” he said.

Hennessey said the Canadian troops will reinforce the training gained here when they return home, particularly during a confirmatory exercise in May designed to certify their readiness to deploy.

Sherman said he and his troops get gratification training the Canadians for their upcoming deployment. “If it saves one soldier’s life, it was well worth the time and effort,” he said. “You’ll never really know if what you taught them here saved a life, but you know in your heart that you’ve made a difference.”

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageA convoy of Canadian army light armored vehicles negotiates an improvised explosive device-training lane during Exercise Southern Bear on Fort Bliss, Texas, and McGregor Range, N.M. Although the Canadians are conducting almost all the training in preparation for a deployment to Afghanistan, the U.S. soldiers are leading the IED-defeat training. Canadian army photo  
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